The Seventh Senate confronts the successive failures of poverty alleviation programmes to glean why it has not impacted its target constituency by leveraging the socio-economic lot of many under-privileged Nigerians. CHIBUZO UKAIBE reports.
It was an alarming session last Thursday as the Senate, at plenary, debated the unrelenting poverty in the land. The perennial yet threatening themes of unemployment, lack in the midst of plenty, corruption and leadership failures, dominated the core of the debate.
The state of affairs as captured by some of the contributing senators was likened to a time bomb waiting to explode. Suffice it to say that the debate struck fear in the hearts of the senators.
After much deliberation, the senate directed its Committee on National planning and Economic Development to investigate the effectiveness of poverty reduction interventions in Nigeria and come up with appropriate recommendations.
But it was the alarming statistics contained in a motion titled “Economic Growth and Worsening Inequality in Nigeria: A call for New Approaches to Poverty Reduction”, sponsored by Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi, that got the senators.
Churning out shuddering statistics in an eerily silent senate chamber, Sen Olubunmi Adetumbi, said the 2011 Human Development report that was released by the UNDP in 2011 showed that Nigeria human Development Index is 0.459 which gives the country a rank of 156 out of 187 countries.
He added that the average HDI of Sub-Saharan African region increased from 0.365 in 1980 to 0.463 today, placing Nigeria below the African regional average. Nigeria was displaced by 14 countries from its 142nd in 2010.
He continued “Nigeria is the lowest among all the oil producing countries and occupies the unenviable status of low human development category with Angola slightly ahead of Nigeria in GDP/capita, adult literacy, primary school enrolment and health adjusted life expectancy. Some other countries in this low category include Haiti (0.454); Zimbabwe (0.376); Sudan (0.408); Sierra Leone (0.336) and Liberia (0.329)
“The 2011 index of governance ranks Nigeria 41st out of 53 countries; and places it in the 13th position of the 16 countries of West African sub region. Most of the indicators considered by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation are similar to the UNDP Human Development Index which includes access to potable water, sanitation, completion of primary education, student-teacher ratio, immunisation and maternal mortality.
“The global competitiveness index, which provides a holistic overview factors that are critical to driving productivity, competitiveness and confidence that are vital to human capital development, Nigeria declined from 99 in 2009 to 127 in a survey of 142 countries. This trend threatens Nigeria quest to attain the goal of emerging as one of the top twenty economies in the world by the year 2020.”
He stressed that for Nigeria to meet the Milleniun Development Goals target, Nigeria would need to achieve a poverty incidence of 21.4 percent from the 64 percent by 2015. At the current pace of the performance Africa is at risk of a drag down by Nigeria in meeting MDG’s continental targets.
In concluding he said the ever increasing aggregate poverty in the country is exacerbated by a worsening inequality adding that despite the vast resources in Nigeria, she still ranks among the most unequal countries in the world.
“It manifests in highly unequal income distribution, differential access to basic infrastructure, education, job opportunities.
Other sources of inequality include growing inequality between and within rural and urban areas and widening gaps between economies of the federating states.
“If the grinding poverty, underdevelopment, job loss and unemployment, growing inequality and widening gap between the rich and the poor are not checked it could further worsen social and political unrest in the country,” he said in closing his motion.
Hence, the contributions began. Apparently troubled by the statistics, Sen. Abdul Ningi, described it as provided in the motion is “fundamentally frightening”. He however expressed dismay that statistics in the past which have shown increase in economic growth has never reflected in the everyday lives of Nigerians.
He said as far as the economic situation vis-a-vis the poverty level are concerned, the future of the country is bleak and that it will require collective action of all irrespective of political affiliation to deal with it, “we all have answers to the problem”. He also criticised the poverty alleviation programmes that have been initiated since 1999, describing them as elitist. “We have to sit down and ponder the future of generation,” he quipped.
In an emotional burst, Sen. Ayo Adeseun, described the situation as a crisis around the corner. “When the unemployed rise God will save all of us.” While he said the potential of the country has not been unleashed he declared “this federation is not working”
On his part, Sen. Abubakar Atiku Bagudu raised concerns over the hurriedness of the country in entering new trade polices calling for a review of the trade polices including those of International Monetary Fund.
While he advocated for private sector to be encouraged to be more involved, he said, “our manufacturing sector has been in decline because of the trade policies which has encouraged us to open up to importation but limited our manufacturing ability.
We need to examine the vision 2020-20 and extract those areas that will help economic growth and have more impact on society.”
One thing is clear, the enormity of the impending crisis on the nation subsists. However, moving beyond fiery rhetoric will as always be the challenge.